Years ago, the horrors of the holocaust paved the way for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; however, our basic right to freedom of religion or belief is still being trampled in societies ruled by totalitarian regimes.
In communist China, practicing a certain faith, printing, or even reading religious books could result in prison terms and abuse. Spiritual believers in China—be it Christians, Buddhists, Uyghur Muslims, or Falun Gong practitioners—are faced not only with brutal suppression or forced-labor terms but also have their religious books burned or trashed at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The coercive policies are aimed at forcing these religious followers to renounce their faith and follow the communist ideologies based on atheism and Marxism.
Ban on Religious Publications
According to Bitter Winter, a magazine on religious liberty and human rights in China, a Three-Self Church venue in one of the villages under the jurisdiction of Lanling County was demolished in July 2020.
A county government official told the congregation that “all churches too close to government institutions must be destroyed” and the same goes for “those that look better than government buildings.”
“Belief in the Communist Party is the only religion allowed,” the official said, according to the report.
In another report, the magazine stated that in the same month, 26 people in Jiangsu Province, China, were sentenced under the charges of “illegal business operations” for being involved in printing religious publications meant for internal circulation for the South Korean Good News Mission.
The director and two members of the mission were fined heavily and handed prison terms of 3 years and 10 months and 3 years and 6 months, respectively, while some printing house managers were fined as high as US$15,000 and sentenced to 3 years, with a probation period of 3 to 5 years.
Even postal and courier services are being strictly monitored. In another recent report, a courier company staff member from the city of Luoyang, Henan Province, told Bitter Winter that the CCP exerted “strict control over mailed goods” in the year 2020.
“Only the mailing of government-approved books is allowed. All books with ‘bad information,’ including religion, are not allowed to be dispatched. If public security authorities discover violations of these regulations, the company will be fined and closed down,” the staff member said.
Citing yet another incident, the report said a mother of Christian faith from Jiyuan City, Henan Province, visited a post office in June 2020 to mail gospel texts to her daughter living abroad. But authorities told her that her publications were “illegal objects,” the report said.
“I knew that it was illegal to send combustible objects, drugs, guns, and ammunition, but even religious materials are now illegal,” she said.
As the communist regime is escalating its restrictions on religious publications, those in the printing industry are left in distress. A sales department manager in Luoyang City, Henan Province, told Bitter Winter in September 2020 that printing of religious materials, “especially Christian,” is not allowed.
“Anyone who takes on such orders breaks the law and might be put into prison. This is the line that we absolutely can’t cross,” the manager said, according to the report.
The authorities also conduct thorough checks to make sure that the businesses are adhering to the rules.
“They checked my storehouse, scrutinized all records, and even looked at paper sheets on the floor, to see if they have prohibited content,” said a printing house manager in the same city.
“If any such content is found, I’ll be fined, or worse, my business will be closed. Any religious content makes the issue political, not religious. Although banners on the streets say people are allowed religious beliefs, the only faith they can practice freely is that in the Communist Party,” he added.
The magazine reported in 2019 that the communist regime is also attempting to “sinicize” the Bible by forcing clergymen to interpret the teachings based on the Marxist and socialist ideologies.
“This is a distortion of the Christian faith. It is the work of the devil,” a Three-Self preacher told Bitter Winter. “The situation is becoming increasingly dire; the government [the CCP] is increasing pressure step by step. In the end, they want to eliminate religious belief completely.”
Trashing and Burning Religious Books
Apart from banning the spiritual publications, the Chinese authorities spare no efforts in confiscating religious books that aren’t officially approved by the CCP.
In March last year, the local authorities demolished a Three-Self church in Jining City’s Yutai County after deeming it an “illegal construction.”
“Officials stormed into our church before we even finished collecting our belongings,” a congregation member told Bitter Winter. “They tore up all Bibles and images of the Lord Jesus.”
Chen Yu, the owner of a Christian online bookstore in Taizhou City, Zhejiang Province, was sentenced to seven years and fined 200,000 yuan (US$31,000) for “selling unapproved religious publications imported from Taiwan, the United States, and other countries,” according to an October 2020 report by International Christian Concern. The authorities also planned to destroy the 12,864 Christian books from his bookstore.
Dictating full control over spiritual followers by destroying religious books and demolishing places of worship is nothing new for the CCP in order to advance its authoritarian reign. As a regime rooted in atheism and materialism, the communist party has been cracking down on religious and spiritual groups constantly since it came to power in 1949.
When the CCP launched the decade-long Cultural Revolution in 1966, temples were looted, and scrolls, books, relics, and even Buddha statues were burned.
A few decades later in July 1999, the then-leader of the CCP, Jiang Zemin, ordered the eradication of the spiritual practice of Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa), an ancient meditation system based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance.
The Public Security Bureau then issued official documents prohibiting the display of any symbols or images associated with the Falun Gong practice and possessing or distributing its books, according to Falun Dafa Information Center.
Minghui.org, a U.S.-based website dedicated to documenting the persecution of Falun Gong, compiled a report, which includes several news reports documenting the CCP’s “nationwide unified destruction” of millions of Falun Gong publications, namely books and videotapes, by throwing them into a pulping machine or burning them.
Since then, countless Falun Gong practitioners have been arrested, imprisoned, and tortured, with some even having their organs harvested. Many of them were arrested for refusing to renounce their faith or for possessing the books.
In its full report on the “Public Destruction of Books and Tapes,” Minghui cited several cases reported by foreign journalists, state-run newspapers in China, eyewitnesses, and adherents of Falun Gong confirming that millions of publications were trashed, burned, and torn apart during the mass-destruction activities.
Although Buddhism is one of the recognized religions in China, the Buddhist temples and their followers are still being targeted by the authorities.
Bitter Winter reported that the government officials in Shanxi Province confiscated nearly 882 pounds (approx. 400 kg) of religious books and CDs from Fengci Temple in October 2020. In the same month, some impoverished households in Ganzhou City, Jiangxi Province, were ordered to burn the Buddhist books in the Foguang Temple or else risk having their minimum subsistence allowance revoked.
In the 2020 springtime, the religious books and CDs were burned in the Reclining Buddha Mountain Temple in Ulanqab City in China’s Inner Mongolia, according to the report.
“Those books and CDs were burned in the incense burner for three to four days,” a Buddhist from Ulanqab City said.
“The rest of religious books and CDs were taken away in a fully loaded truck. The CDs alone weighed three to four hundred kilograms.”
Arshdeep Sarao contributed to this report.